Sonflower Camp turns 20

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, June 9, 2018

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CAMP FUN – Sonflower Camp turned 20 this year, and campers celebrated with their favorite activities – riding the train and painting horses. Messenger photo by Racey Burden

When they were just toddlers, Mark Hiners and Jerry Rushing were among the first to attend Camp Sonflower 20 years ago.

Hiners, 22, and Rushing, 21, said they have the same birthday, just one year apart.

Mark Hiners and Jerry Rushing attended Sonflower Camp its first year. Messenger photo by Racey Burden

Rushing, who’s no longer a camper, returned this year to hang out with Hiners, who still is. The pair is just one example of campers and volunteers who’ve come back to camp year after year. It’s not uncommon to see a camper who’s attended for a decade or more. Some travel from out of state just to see their friends again for one week in the summer at Camp Sonflower, a day camp for kids and adults with special needs.

Andrea Duwe started Sonflower Camp 20 years ago after the local schools cut their special needs summer program. On the first day, 25 kids showed up.

“I was so disappointed in that number because we had worked so hard,” Duwe said. “Then we ended up with more than 100 kids that week, going from 9 to 3 Monday through Friday. We had to slow it down.”

Camp now runs from 9 to noon Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with a break Thursday and a swim day at Fit-N-Wise Friday. Usually, campers and volunteers meet at the Reunion grounds, but this year Sonflower Camp moved indoors to Crossroads Church in Decatur.

“The A/C is an incredible hit,” Duwe said.

Many of the stations, though, have remained the same. There’s still a man juggling batons with flames coming out the tips. There are still horses standing placidly while campers paint sunflowers and flags on their flanks. There’s an ambulance to tour and water guns to squirt and crafts to complete. The monster trucks were new this year and very popular.

“They took them on rides,” Duwe said. “The kids were like, ‘Woo!’ That was their jam.”

After years of running the camp, Duwe has turned over much of the operation to Elaine Huff, a minister at Crossroads. Huff starting volunteering at Camp Sonflower nearly a decade ago, and she’s watched it grow to the nearly 130 campers and 200 volunteers it has today.

“My favorite thing is getting to see the smiles on the campers’ faces. There’s so much joy,” Huff said. “Then I like to see our teenage buddies let go and not worry about how dumb they look.”

Duwe said the camp wouldn’t still exist without Huff or the other volunteers who have encouraged her and built the programs up, or without the parents who bring their kids every year.

“Every year I think, ‘Do I want to do this?’ And every year I see the kids and I’m like, ‘Thank you, God,'” Duwe said. “I’m so glad we did this.”

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